What we did on our holidays

After the intensive five month sessions that produced the “White Album” (and nearly broke up the group in the progress) The Beatles once more took an extended holiday break, going all their individual ways.

Characteristically Ringo stayed at home doing very little apart from searching for a suitable film role.

John took heroin with Yoko Ono and made some rather dubious art while at it. (Their appearance in the Rolling Stones’ Rock And Roll Circus TV special was an unexpected higlight – even though it went officially unseen for the next 30 years.)

Paul took a more traditional holiday in the sun of Algarve, Portugal. After a particularly merry night out he returned to his hotel, La Penina, and ended up not only playing the drums with the hotel’s band but also donated them a song! Well, calling “Penina” a song may be a bit of an exaggeration – perhaps “a song idea” or “a rough draft for a song” would be more precise – but the group leader Carlos Mendes was more than happy to record the number anyway. It was also recorded by a Dutch group Jotta Herre for an international release, but neither version made much impact anywhere. Apparently Paul thought so little of the ditty that he even failed to inform his music publisher that one of his unpublished songs was being recorded all over Europe! Thus it wasn’t until a decade later when EMI included Mendes’ version on the “Songs Lennon & McCartney Gave Away” LP that most people heard – or even heard of– “Penina.”

Both versions are available on EMI Portugal’s “All You Need Is Lisboa” – a CD of Portuguese Beatles covers, a fascinating look into what was essentially a developing pop music country at the time. Oh, and Macca can be head running through the number on some … ahem … unofficial “Let It Be” era recordings.

George, the junior Beatle often looked down by his fellow group members, spent his holidays hanging out with some heavy musical friends of his, including Bob Dylan and the Band – and enjoyed the respect he got from them to no end. He was also there to help his guitarist mate Eric Clapton write a song that was required for the final LP of his group Cream. George was also the one with a pen and paper with him and when he wrote down “bridge” to mark the song’s middle section, Clapton sitting opposite to him asked: “What’s that? A badge?” So the song got named “Badge.” Funny lads, them. Reportedly a drunken Ringo walked in midway through and contributed the line about swans living in the park (He never got a credit for it. Sue ’em, Richard, sue ’em!) “Badge”, as relasead on Cream’s “Goodbye” LP, is certainly a classic piece of late sixties Beatlesque pop and was also a moderate hit when released as a 45. George played a bit of guitar on the record, billed as “L’angelo Misterioso” but the extremely Harrison sounding leslie guitar brake in the song’s badge…er..bridge is actually Clapton’s imitation of Harrison’s style!

The “Goodbye” LP has been reissued numerous times and “Badge” can also be found on countless compilations. But you already have it, don’t you?

Published in: on November 15, 2007 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Granny Smith, René Magritte, Etcetera

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After the death of Brian Epstein, The Beatles decided two things: a) not to hire a new manager and b) to go ahead with their dream of their record company. This latter took a whole year to come into life but finally Apple Records was launched in August 1968 with a simultaneous release of four singles. This may have been good marketing strategy when it came to visibility, but it also meant that the “lesser” releases would be overshadowed by the other ones, particularly since the first four included both “Hey Jude”, The Beatles’ biggest hit ever and “Those Were The Days”, Mary Hopkin’s Macca produced version of the Lithuanian folk song that became huge internationally. Typically, it’s the other two releases that are of interest to us in here. (Pictured above you can see a black and white picture of René Magritte’s ‘Le Jeu de mourre’ which inspired the Apple logos – also pictured here.)

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Jackie Lomax had been the lead singer in a second division Liverpool group the Undertakers, and had been briefly signed by Epstein as a solo artist. After Brian’s death The Beatles sort of “inherited” him, and George decided to take him under his wing. “Sour Milk Sea”, one of the songs George wrote in India in early 1968, was demoed by The Beatles for inclusion on the “White Album”, but no formal recordings ever took place, possibly because George came up with the somewhat similar sounding “Savoy Truffle.” Instead it was given to Lomax for his debut single. For the recording session George was able to recruit quite a band: Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards (both had appeared on recent Beatles sessions as well) and Paul and Ringo as the rhythm section! George supplied rhythm guitar – and if you listen closely enough you can hear traces of his erased guide vocal (A version with George on vocals is the holy grail of many a collector – and unsurprisingly many have tried to sync The Beatles’ demo with Lomax’ record to varying degrees of success.) The result was naturally quite a Beatles sounding rocker, which received lots of airplay, good reviews – and bad sales. Nevertheless George went on to produce Lomax’ sole Apple LP “Is This What You Want?” (featuring the single and available on CD) but Lomax never became the star he was hoped to be.

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And then there was “Thingumybob.” After the successes of “Love In The Open Air” and “Step Inside Love” Paul was asked to write another theme, this time for an ITV mini series starring Stanley Holloway and called – yep! – “Thingumybob.” Paul came up with a suitably catchy and cute tune and asked George Martin to do the scoring. Martin arranged the recording like a modernized version of a 1920’s dance band tune (“Winchester Cathedral”, anyone?”) but Paul didn’t like the version so it was not released until the 1990′ s George Martin box I may have mentioned before.

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For the record Paul wanted a truer brass band sound (remember “The Family Way”?) so he recruited Britain’s finest The Black Dyke Mills Band and got what he wanted, a truly authentic brass band sound. (The band had been around since 1816 – though not all the original members were in the line up by 1968!) Paul and John produced -outdoors! – a version of “Yellow Submarine” for the flip side but the single failed to chart. It hasn’t been released on an official CD to date and the original 45’s change hands for huge sums in any condition – a boxed set of Apple rarities would be nice…

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An aside: most Beatles collectors know that in a Beatles session on Aug 20 1968 Paul recorded a number called “Etcetera” and took the tape with him. Paul reportedly gave the song to Marianne Faithful but her version never materialised either. And it hasn’t been heard since. But some very exciting news tells us that an acetate of Paul’s recording has surfaced in a raid of Macca’s archives (he apparently has an anthology in the works!) It’s been reported that “Etcetera” is actually “Thingumybob” with corny lyrics and a newly written middle section! So one of the mysteries of Beatledom gets solved…Let’s hope the recording sees the light of day sooner or later. Oh, and it’s interesting to note that Paul was rewriting “Thingumybob” in late August when the tune had already been premiered on TV and the single was nearly in the shops.

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Published in: on October 4, 2007 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Koululaukut maalitolppina

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Millions of words have been written about “Sgt. Pepper”, The Beatles’ seventh LP. You know the myth… The Beatles’ meisterwerk that miracuosly brought together the entire Western civilization for those brief glorious months affectionately remembered as “the Summer of Love”… Haight-Ashbury… Monterey Pop… Flower Power… Jimi, Janis, Jim… Joppe… Andrew Gladwin… flowers in rifles… koululaukut maalitolppina… BLAH! Like said, millions of words have been written and I’m more than relieved that it’s not the purpose of this blog to break any myths or offer any fresh critical insights into “Pepper”… No sir, we’re here to discuss the songs for others…and – tee hee! – there weren’t many!

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Paul was as eager as ever to make his songs hits and he reportedly produced a version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” for old friend Marianne Faithfull a few weeks before the LP was released. Unfortunately her version never came out, clearing the path for several “unauthorised” covers. (A group called the Young Idea -wild!- had a minor hit with it, Joe Brown had a major flop, while Joe Cocker released a little later what many – not I! – consider to be definitive version. But these are all outside the scope of this blog!)

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George Martin also produced a couple of cover versions, which judging by their release dates, were recorded before the LP came out and thus warrant an inclusion here. Old friends David & Jonathan (see “Michelle”) did a virtual note for note copy of “She’s Leaving Home” but ended up spunding totally uninteresting – which was probably an achievement in itself. The record did not sell and soon David & Jonathan decided to concentrate writing hits for others. (They wrote, amongst others, “You’ve Got Your Troubles” for the Fortunes and – gulp!- “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” for the New Seekers. But thankfully these are outside the scope of this blog!) You can find “She’s Leaving Home” on any number of the duo’s “hits” CDs in your nearest bargain bin – or you can get the George Martin boxed set I’ve recommended before…

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“When I’m Sixty-Four”, Pauls vaudevillian charmer/yawner had been around in rough form since the Cavern days. Bernard Cribbins, the well loved British comedian and actor had been around even longer. Actually he’d been making succesful novelty records (“The Hole In The Ground”, “Right Said Fred”) with George Martin since 1956. In 1967 he was a stunning 40 years old, so somebody thought this number would be perfect for him. Yep yep. Once more Martin carefully recreated The Beatles’ backing track, and hearing Cribbins’ “old man” vocals in place of Paul’s sped-up-to-sound-youthful voice is a little stunning, almost like listening to “Pepper” with a guest vocalist. OK, I’m exaggerating, maybe better- than- average- karaoke 😀 Cribbins’ record was not a hit but it can be found on the George Martin box I’ve recommended enough times. Or if you’re really obsessive, there’s even a “Very Best of Bernard Cribbins” CD on EMI. Heck, I’m more than happy to sell you my copy!

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Whatever your opinion on the “Pepper” era recordings are, they are at least the most sophisticated productions of The Beatles’ career. And the premiere and (partial) recording of the follow up single “All You Need Is Love” in front of some 200 million television watchers seem to indicate that this was a peak. Certainly things started going down hill soon, with the death of Brian Epstein, their catastrophic TV film “Magical Mystery Tour” and – yes, Virginia – the introduction of Yoko Ono into Beatledom. If anything good came out of all this, it’s probably that all four started to work on outside projects again, giving me something to write about!

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Chris Barber was Britain’s leading trombonist and the leader of his own trad jazz (ie dixieland) band since the 1950’s. He’d also appeared on several BBC radio shows alongside The Beatles through the years – and played at the Cavern club when The Beatles were still banned there for playing rock and roll! The “jazz” and “beat” camps had been highly suspicious of each other, but by 1967 the artificial boundaries between different types of music had been knocked down (oops, sorry, I left the cliche mode on!) and Barber felt confident enough to ask Paul for a hit. Paul remembered “Cats Walk”, one of several unrecorded instrumental numbers from The Beatles’ early repertoire (rehearsal tapes from 1962 circulate) , and produced a version for Barber. Retitled “Catcall”, the record featured a number of stock 1967 Beatles production tricks: a false ending, a half time coda, a series of – you guessed it! – cat calls, ending with a pub singalong of “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” (shades of the “All You Need Is Love” finale, prehaps?) Well, the record went nowhere and is very hard to come by these days. No official CD issue seems to exist either, so the easiest way to find this little nugget is to seek a copy of EMI’s late 1970’s compilation “Songs Lennon & McCartney Gave Away”.

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Finally, there was Cilla Black, one step away from being a national institution: all she needed was her own TV show. She got that in early 1968, with Paul providing the catchy theme “Step Inside Love.” A horrible quality home recording of Paul has been circulating since the 1970’s and a much better quality and longer studio tape surfaced recently.

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One of the tracks from the tape has been officially released on the 3 CD set “The Abbey Road Decade 1963 – 1973” and features Paul on an acoustic guitar and Cilla singing and discussing the arrangement with George Martin. The CD also includes a previously unreleased bossa nova-type arrangement of the song, along with the poppier remake which made it to #7 in the UK charts. If that’s not enough for you, well, there’s an Italian version of the song on the CD for you! Oh, and of course there’s an impromptu studio version onThe Beatles Anthology 3 CD as well, from the White Album sessions! This was the last song Paul gave to Cilla, who went on making hits well into the 1970’s. These days you’re likely to see her in a BBC talk show or a TV quiz 😀

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Published in: on September 5, 2007 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hittin’ the high spots, feelin’ groovy

After The Beatles played their last ever concert (San Fransisco’s Candlestick Park, Aug 29 1966), they all went their own ways. George flew to India to study all things…erm…Indian. John flew to Spain to partake in Richard Lester’s film “How I Won The War.”

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Ringo stayed at home, playing the pool and getting bored. Meanwhile Paul, the bachelor Beatle was busy visiting all of London’s art galleries and night clubs and popping in other people’s recording sessions. One known instance is “background hollering” on Donovan’s hit single “Mellow Yellow.”

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A more substantial contribution was to a record by the Escorts. The Escorts were a fine group of very young Liverpudlians, who released an excellent half a dozen of singles between 1964 and 1966, none of which had much impact on the charts, presumably because they sounded too much like yesteryear’s recordings in the fast evolving musical climate of the era. Nevertheless, Paul was there to help with what turned out to be their final session. As usual, Paul couldn’t keep his mouth shut, so he effectively acted as an uncredited co-producer. He also played the tambourine on the A side, a cover of the Miracles’ “From Head To Toe.” More importantly, he also reportedly helped with writing the B side, “Night Time.” It’s another soulful number with falsetto vocals, endearing in their near amateurishness. Of course Paul did not receive a credit for his writing help – but the lyrics do seem to reflect his current life style: “First we go to a movie, then we’ll hit the high spots, feelin’ groovy. That’s why I only operate (yeah) at night time!” The record was a total flop and the Escorts soon disbanded, their records becoming valued collector’s items. Thankfully a CD “From The Blue Angel” on Edsel records collects together all of their recorded output. Higly recommended for all friends of bands like the Swinging Blue Jeans.

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A much more important Macca contribution was penning the music to “The Family Way”, a film by the Boulting brothers. (Some may feel that this is no mere “contribution”, but rather Macca’s first “solo recordings”. Since he doesn’t appear on the recordings and they weren’t even released under his name, I’ve chosen to include them here.) Paul’s initial contribution was to write a single theme (lated dubbed “Theme From Family Way”) and suggest George Martin to arrange it for a brass band. (Brass bands were very much loved in Liverpool and Northern England in general – Paul’s grandfather had played in one.) Martin correctly realised that he couldn’t do a whole film score with just one theme so he went back to ask Paul for something more, interrupting a Lennon/McCartney writing session. A mildly irritated Macca excused his song writing partner, noodled the piano for a few minutes and gave Martin a waltz theme: “Something like that, you mean?” The theme was later titled “Love In The Open Air” and went on to win an Ivor Novello award for the best soundtrack music of the year! George Martin arranged and recorded several variations of these two themes (“brass band”, “waltz”, “rock”, “wedding march”, “go-go” etc.) and a soundtrack LP was released featuring 13 (untitled) variations. The recordings are usually credited to the George Martin Orchestra, though they were actually performed by Neville Marriner’s string quartet and a brass band later dubbed “the Tudor Minstrels” when a single from the LP was released. (To add to confusion, Martin later rerecorded the themes for a single released under his own way.) In any case the album is short but sweet, a true testament to Paul’s ability to come up with memorable melodies and to George Martin’s arrangement and conducting skills. As such it is a neglected and overlooked gem – though this may be partially caused by it’s limited availability. What looks like an official CD release (on Disques XXI – 21 Records) does not sound like one: large chunks of it are copied off a scratchy vinyl and the recording switches back and forth between mono and stereo. On the plus side, it adds guitarist Carl Aubut’s 1995 renditions as well as Macca approved 1999 recordings byFlûte Enchantée Quartet. Highly recommended despite it’s short comings (and once more credited to “the George Martin Orchestra!”)

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Published in: on August 22, 2007 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Aftergeography

(The Stones had an LP called “Aftermath” so Ringo suggested The Beatles should have one called “Aftergeography.” Thanks Ring!:-) )

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After the overhectic past three years, The Beatles wisely took off the first few months of 1966, with no group projects whatsoever. This paid off in a grand way: the results the “Paperback Writer”/”Rain” single and the “Revolver” LP are widely regarded as perhaps their finest work. Interestingly, while all the released 16 tracks approach perfection, there seems not to have been any extra songs. Certainly no unreleased songs from the sessions exist, neither are there any home demos of unheard songs. And no tracks were donated to friends and rivals. The Beatles just wrote and recorded 16 classic tracks and went home. Which was nice. Paul, active as usual, was giving old friends the option to be the first one to do a cover version of one or another of his songs.

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Cilla Black had come a long way since the days of “Love Of The Loved”, making a major hit after another and being perhaps the most popular female artist in the country. She recorded “For No One”, one of Paul’s most beautiful ballads, on Aug 7 1966 – mere two days after the release of Revolver. Considering that the song’s orchestral arrangement had to be worked out beforehand – and that the session was produced by George Martin – it’s safe to assume she was given this song “in advance.” Cilla does her usual precise job, the arrangement follows the original pretty closely and the song has a”hit” written all over it, with the strings adding a radio friendly touch to it. Inexplicably Cilla buried the song on the B side of “A Fool Am I”, which “only” made a #13 in the UK charts. Talk about a wasted opportunity!

If Cilla didn’t really need a hit song from Paul, The Fourmost were some other old friends who certainly did! After “Hello Little Girl” and “I’m In Love”, the group had had their biggest hit with “A Little Loving” and a couple of lesser ones (“Baby I Need Your Loving”, “Girls Girls Girls”) before drifting away from the public’s eye. The trouble was their records sounded very much the same as in years before, at a time when the music was changing faster than ever. Paul offered them the first chance to record “Here There And Everywhere”, possibly the very finest of all Paul McCartney ballads – and that’ saying something! The Fourmost thanked by jogging their way through this number emotionlessly, as if they were advertising Rice Krispies or something, and the public didn’t want to know. How could George Martin ever produce anything as bad as this? Rightfully the record sank without a trace and so did the Fourmost. Apparently Paul had no hard feelings, since a couple of years later he would produce another flop record for them: “Rosetta”/”Just Like Before” – he even played on the A side. These will appear on future blogs: “The Beatles Were On My Record, Honestly!” and “Brushes Of Greatness.”

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Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers were in need of a hit as well. One of Britains more convincing soul/R&B combos, they’d been friends with The Beatles since the two groups had shared a bill in Hamburg’s Star Club in December 1962. Their only hit had been a cover of the Drifters’ “One Way Love” back in 1963 – and ever since they’d been asking Paul to write them a hit. The two group’s paths crossed once again on their mini tour of Germany, in June 1966, and this time Paul had the right song for them. “Got To Get You Into My Life” was his ode to the sweet sounds of soul music – and to the sweet smelling cigarettes of his – and Paul co-produced (uncredited, of course) a quite wonderful version of the song for Bennett & Co. Paul also supposedly plays piano on the record although it doesn’t sound like him. The record was a UK top 10 hit – Bennett’s last, though his records continued being most enjoyable.

All these songs can be found on the compilations discussed before – though a Cliff Bennett compilation would not be such a bad idea for anyone interested in quality music from the 1960’s
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Published in: on August 14, 2007 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

J’et suis Bernard Webb avec bonbons et Jacques Cousteau

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Peter: Hi folks, it’s Peter…

Gordon: …and Gordon…

Peter: of the famous pop duo “Peter and Gordon” and we are very good friends with The Beatles.

Gordon: Speaking of our very good friends, The Beatles, I wonder what they are up to these days?

Peter: Yes, it’s nearly spring…

Gordon: …of 1966

Peter: and we haven’t heard a word of them the whole year!

Gordon: Not a word.

Peter: Well, in the absence of our very good friends The Beatles, how about giving a listen to our latest record?

Gordon: OK, I’ll do that!

Peter: No, not you, the general public!

General public: Uh..wha? Good morning…what year is it?

Gordon: 1966!

Peter: Would you like to hear our latest record, a lovely big ballad in the style of our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…

Gordon: But it’s not written by our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…at all!

Peter: No, it’s written by…er…er…

Gordon: Bernard Webb

Peter: Bernard Webb who is a very good friend of ours and a musical student…

Gordon: And he is very French!

General public: If he’s French then why does the publishing credit say “Northern Songs”, just like on the Lennon/McCartney songs which it resembles?

Gordon: You tell him, Peter!

Peter: Er…Mr Webb was in England and er…Dick James heard the song and liked it and asked him if he could publish it!

Gordon: Yes! And Mr. Webb said yes!

Peter: Yes!

General public: Then why does it sound exactly like a Paul McCartney song?

Gordon: You tell him, Peter !

Peter: Er..because he’s very good!

Gordon: Yes!

Peter: So it’s not a pseudonym for our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…

Gordon: At all!

General public: Look, I know Paul is fed up with people saying his songs are only hits because he wrote them…

Gordon: And we are sick of people saying we rely too much on our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…

Peter: Shut up

General public: I ain’t buying that crap , bye.

Peter: Darn! Hey Paul, looks like our experiment didn’t work…They found out it was you!

Paul: Cor blimey!

Gordon: And they didn’t buy the record anyway!

Paul: Bloody hell!You should have used the “little string arrangement” like I told you!

Gordon: It was top 30, though…and who’s idea was the new arrangement anyway?

Paul: Shut up or I’ll give you no more hits!

Peter: I wouldn’t call that a hit – in the true sense of the word…

Paul: You too! I’ll marry yer sister!

Peter: You can try…

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Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Songs about Lesbians and Prostitutes

(No, I’m not trying to generate Google based traffic 🙂 This is just a refence to a 1966 article in Time magazine, which revealed the “hidden meaning” of “Norwegian Wood” and “Day Tripper”. Not.)

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Late 1965 was a typically hectic period in The Beatles’ lives. Having just come back from a long and tiring tour of USA, the group was soon ushered into the recording studio to produce yet anhother LP – their sixth in under three years! – even though the Help! LP had been out just two months. On top of that, the band also had a UK tour to complete, while recording. That the resulting LP – “Rubber Soul”- and it’s accompanying double A-sided, non-album single – “We Can Work It Out”/”Day Tripper” – rank among The Beatles’ finest works speaks volume for the lads’ ability to deliver the goods under pressure. Understandably this schedule left little time to compose songs for anyone else, but there were cover versions, as usual – plenty of them! A couple are of interest to us.

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“Michelle” had been around since the early 1960’s as a vaguely French sounding instrumental, with which Paul tried to impress the art school girls… With a desperate lack of new material, this ditty was turned into a real song, and became perhaps the most popular track on the LP, spawning two cover versions – both of which became UK top 20 hits! The Overlanders made # 15, while David & Jonathan got to #9. David & Jonathan (actually Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook) were old mates of The Beatles since the days the two had been members of the Kestrels (“There’s A Place”) on the Helen Shapiro tour of early 1963. Frankly I don’t know when their version was recorded, but with their Beatles connections – and producer George Martin – it’s been suggested that this number was “earmarked” for the duo before the LP’s release. Whatever the case David & Jonathan do a virtual note to note copy of the original recording, albeit sounding less bluesy and more MOR. Oh well, originality and soulfulness probably weren’t high on their agenda. “Michelle” can be found on every David & Jonathan CD you can find in your local supermarket’s “3 CDs for 3 $” bins – but if you have extra cash you might want to check out the five CD George Martin boxed set pictured below.

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While John and Paul had been producing hit after hit, George Harrison had been watching and learning the craft of song writing. His fifth recorded composition, “If I Needed Someone” is the first one to appear on this set of exclusives and “semi-exclusives”. The Hollies were one of the biggest bands of the 60’s with an impressive string of eight consecutive top 20hits already behind them – and much more to come. In theory George Harrison should have been proud when the Hollies decided to record If I Needed Someone”. Well, he wasn’t, publically calling the record “soulless” and adding that the group sounded like “session men”. In those days when a Beatle spoke, everybody listened and the song became a comparative flop, making “only” # 21. The angry Hollies replied that they only recorded the song because they were told that George had written it specially for them – and that there were better songs around! In a sense both parties were right. The Beatles’ record is made memorable by the wonderful three-part harmonies and the Byrds’ influenced 12-string guitars – the Hollies’ version suggests that the song itself wasn’t very strong, only The Beatles’ recording of it. Nevertheless, the Hollies version can be found on the excellent CD “The Hollies at Abbey Road 1963-1966”.

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Published in: on August 7, 2007 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Eight Arms To Hold You

1965 was a curious year for The Beatles. Basically they did everything they had done the year before: two albums, three singles, tours of the UK, Europe and USA, another film. Another book of John’s. But it was also a year of artistic growth and some decisions which foreshadowed their decision to leave the concert stages for good the following year. First, after their 52nd (!) appearance on the BBC radio in May, they finally stopped providing the “Auntie” exclusive musical material. Later in the year they stopped appearing live on television, sending specially filmed “promtional films” (ie videos) instead. As song writers John and Paul were as productive as ever, but they largely kept their songs to The Beatles.
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The sessions for the “Help!” LP produced no less than 20 tracks. 14 were selected for the album, two became B sides, one a filler track on an American LP, one was left off for the next one while two were discarded altogether. John’s “If You’ve Got Trouble” certainly deserved this fate. A fast rocker with not much of a melody, a daft lyric plus a Ringo vocal, slightly reminiscent of earlier throwaways such as “Hold Me Tight” and “One And One Is Two” seems not to have been even offered to anyone. Which was nobody’s loss.

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Paul’s “ThatMeans A Lot” was a much more promising number, which the group had a hard time recording. A perfectly acceptable rendition, slightly reminiscent of “Tell Me What You See”, was cut in February, but not to The Beatles’ satisfaction. The group experimented with several new arrangement ideas in March, but finally gave up and decided to give the song to someone who could do it justice. Enter PJ Proby, a ponytailed(!) balladeer, known for his Elvis impersonations and a controversial stage show, which would climax with ripped velvet trousers! Proby says he was drinking in one of those fashionable London night clubs with John and asked for a song (Now, who wouldn’t?) John came back the following night with “That Means A Lot” and the delighted Proby asked if he could use George Martin as a producer. Apparently this was a bit too much for Lennon who exploded: “You got my song, now you want my producer! What next? My Life, my wife, my kid?” Martin did produce the record in the end in a somewhat bombastic orchestral arrangement and the result was a moderate top 40 hit in the UK. In my opinion the heavy handed orchestration merely makes it more clear that this isn’t one of Paul’s better ones. I much prefer The Beatles’ own version, finally released on Anthology 2. PJ’s version can be found on any number of compilations, such as “The Very Best of PJ Proby” on EMI.
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The big musical craze of 1965 was folk music. Brian Epstein tried to stay in tune with the times by signing the Silkie, a Peter Paul & Mary type of male/female folk group of university students. For their debut single they were given John Lennon’s lovely Bob Dylan influenced “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”. The Beatles’ version had been out for just three days, so this can be considered “exclusive”, especially since the record was advertised as being “produced by Lennon & McCartney”. Paul also reportedly played guitar on the record while George added a bit of percussion. All this hype made the record a minor (top 30) hit in the UK and a major one in the USA. To my ears their type of folk music sounds decidedly outdated and unimpressive so I have no idea what became of the group or if their other recordings are available. You find that out yourself:D YGTHYLA is available on the “Lennon/McCartney Songbook” CD mentioned several times before.

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And then there was “Yesterday.” No, don’t worry, I won’t you bore with the story of how Paul woke up one morning with the tune in his head, put some temporary lyrics about scrambled eggs on it and bugged everyone for months by asking if they’d heard the tune before. Ooops..what did I just do:D Considering how many thousands of cover versions of the tune exist, it’ s somewhat surprising to find out that it took two months for the first one to emerge. Marianne Faithful, the stunningly beautiful, frighteningly young pop star of the day (and girl friend of several Rolling Stones) wanted to record the song and Paul was all for it. Her innocent image and angelic voice did make an effective contrast to the song’s world weary lyrics. Apparently Paul co-produced the track (uncredited) which became a minor hit, losing the battle to a simultaneous version by the slimy balladeer Matt Monroe. Faithful’s version can be found on the same CD as the previous track – not to mention any of the numerous Marianne Faithful’s compilations. Her later work is also higly respected – and entirely different – but that’s another blog. 😉

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Published in: on August 5, 2007 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Potboiling

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In the two short years since “Love Me Do” The Beatles had recorded four LPs, eight singles, an EP of otherwise unavailable material, made a film, toured North America, Australasia, Europe and the UK (several times), appeared nearly 50 times in the BBC radio and dozens of TV shows, not to mention all the interviews, press conferences, photo calls and other promotional duties. It’s no wonder then that by “Beatles For Sale” LP
the Lennon/McCartney giveaway numbers were becoming increasingly rare. A couple of tracks of interest exist.

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Johnny Devlin was apparently the first artist to record “real” rock and roll in New Zealand, earning the local nick name of “the King of Rock and Roll” in the late 1950’s. He and his group the Devils were also one of The Beatles’ supporting acts during the group’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. In scenes reminiscent of “I’ve Just Fallen For Someone” (see below), Devlin says he performed his new song “Won’t You Be My Baby” to Paul McCartney who immediately grabbed a guitar and reshaped to song into something entirely different. He “should have got a credit.” Needless to say, he didn’t so the credibility of the story is open to question. It’s a most pleasing record, with it’s mixture of Devlin’s Elvis styled vocals and the Devils’ Shadows inspired guitars although it must have sounded outdated when released in Januray 1965. (Curiously the record sounds like it could have been a hit in Finland where such combinations were very much loved then and indeed now!) The song does not seem to have been released on an official CD and even the original single pressing rarely turns up in auctions. I was lucky enough to secure a copy (and for a reasonable price too!) on eBay.

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The only true giveaway from this era is “I Don’t Want To See You Again” as recorded by Peter and Gordon. Peter says he had to use all of his persuasive skills to get this exclusive from Paul and it’s not difficult to see why. The group were seriously short of songs for their new LP, returning to the “six cover versions” formula of their first two LPs and even updating “I’ll Follow The Sun” from their days as Quarry Men. What’s more, “I Don’t Want To See You Again” would have fit “Beatles For Sale” perfectly with it’s C&W overtones, effortless melodicism and the general air of melancholia.Thus Paul must have been disheartened to see the single become a total flop in the UK. Determined to make it a hit in America he went to record special introductions for the American stations to go along with the single. It worked and the result was a reasonable chart placing of 16. But what would I not give to hear Paul and John harmonize the song’s middle section…

Peter and Gordon’s version (with Paul’s intro and outro) are available on the EMI CD discussed earlier.

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Published in: on June 29, 2007 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Another Hard Day’s Night

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The Beatles’ third LP “A Hard Day’s Night” was famously their first one to comprise entirely of original material – and the only one where all the songs were by Lennon/McCartney. It’s also one that is curiously dominated by Lennon. True, most of the songs were co-efforts, mostly written in a Parisian hotel room just before the group took over the USA. But eventually only three numbers (“Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Things We Said Today” and “And I Love Her”) can be considered Paul’s babies. The rest are largely John’s. But looking at the material Paul was giving away during the first half of 1964 it becomes obvious the LP could have been entirely different. Now let’s have a closer look.

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Peter And Gordon (Asher and Waller, respectively) were an Everly Brothers inspired harmony duo from London. Columbia Records were supposedly unaware that Peter’s sister was none other than Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s long time girl friend. If true, it must have been a pleasant surprise when Peter brought in two Lennon/McCartney exclusives for their debut session. The first of these, “A World Without Love”, was a pleasant mid tempo number with lyrics too corny for The Beatles to consider. The line “Please lock me away” would always crack them up. Apparently Billy J Kramer felt the same way and rejected the number. Peter and Gordon had no such reservations and were rewarded with a number one single on both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a debut, huh?

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The other number, “Nobody I Know” wasn’t quite in the same league. Billy J Kramer would probably have tucked it on a B side, but Peter and Gordon – and producer Norman Newell – were wise to save it for the follow up. Aided by some fine twelve string acoustic guitarand riding on the trails of a chart topper it made # 10 in the UK and #12 in the US. Paul was to provide the duo two more exclusives in the future, all of these can be easily found on any number of compilations, such as “The Ultimate Peter & Gordon” on EMI.

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“One And One Is Two” was a fast rocker, not unlike “Hold Me Tight”, written in that Parisian hotel room and intended fror Billy J Kramer (John and Paul’s demo circulates among collectors). According to author Michael Braun who was there (unlike so many “experts”) John quipped “Billy J’s finished after that!” Once again Kramer seems to have agreed, passing the song over to the Fourmost (now was there a pecking order or what?). They could not make the song to work either, even with Paul sitting in on bass, so it was left for the Strangers with Mike Shannon to take the song with them into obscurity. Little is known of the group (by me, at least!) For years they were rumoured to be a South African group but Paul has since described them as “mates from Liverpool.” Their enthusiastic, energetic and somewhat amateurish version can best be found on a compilation CD “Lennon & McCartney Songbook vol. 2” on Castle Records. Highly recommended listening for anyone interested in obscure and more familiar cover versions.

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One song that Billy J Kramer agreed to record was “From A Window”. This was a typically melodic piece of Macca pop, although perhaps somewhat lacking in the hook department which may explain why the single only made #10 in the UK. Coming after a number one this was considerd a disappoinment. In the USA the song was covered by Chad and Jeremy with the result that neither version was a hit. The times they were a changing and Kramer’s next record, the ironically titled “It’s Gotta Last Forever” failed to chart at all nd a cover of Burt Bacharac’s ” Trains And Boats And Planes” would become his last cgart entry, # 12 in the UK. All of Billy’s hits are easily available, for instance on “Billy J Kramer With The Dakotas At Abbey Road 1963-1966” on EMI. And oh, Paul was in the studio for “From A Window”, which was handy when Billy couldn’t reach the final high note, Paul stepped in and sang it. It’s on the record. Listen!

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Decca Records must have surely been kicking themselves by this time. In January 1962 they had rejected the world’s greatest pop goup, the world’s greatest song writing duo and three hit songs, all at the same time. Beat that! To compensate this accident they would sign up nearly every act int he land, hoping to find another Beatles. And in early 1964 they had on of their groups record the last of Lennon/McCartney songs from that infamous 1962 demo tape. The group were the Applejacks, the sole presenters of “the Solihull Sound” (yeah, nice try!) who’d had a #7 hit with “Tell Me When.” (Unusually their bass player was femaleFor the follow up Decca dug out the positively old fashioned sounding “Like Dreamers Do”. A jarring piano riff was added but the record sounded too much like yesteryear’s Gerry & the Pacemakers to go past #20 in the UK charts. The Applejacks would have one more hit record (“Three Little Words, #23) before disapearing. A further Lennon/McCartney cover of “Baby’s In Black” had no Beatles approval, but Kinks collectors cherish the group’s 1965 version of “I Go To Sleep”, probably the best song “Ray Davies gave away” – but that’s another blog!

“Like Dreamers Do” can be found on the “Lennon & McCartney Song Book Vol. 2” CD mentioned above. All of the Applejacks recorded work can be found on a Beat Merchants CD “Everybody Fall Down”, if you’re mad enough to hunt it down. It’s not worth it, trust me;) And I’m not sure it’s an official release anyway (doesn’t look like one.)

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Of all the songs Paul gave away at this time, the most intriguing one is “It’s for You”. An extremely ambitious record for it’s time, being a jazzy waltz, it rather amazingly made #7 in the UK charts in the capable hands of Cilla Black. I’d be tempted to attribute this success to the musical climate of the sixties, but of course coming after two consecutive number ones (the big ballads “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “You’re My World”) helped enormously. That’s not to take anything away from Cilla who does her usual high quality job, with Paul playing the piano. But I wonder what the “Hard Day’s Night” era Beatles would have made of this.

“It’s For You” is available on any number of Cilla compilations – like the one pictured below. But hey Paul, how about a solo version at long last?

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Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 1:56 pm  Comments (3)